Welcome to the 11th week of the Virtual Medicine Open Day: giving you an insight into each of the UK medical schools and the opportunity to ask current medical students about the realities of studying there!

This post is written by Lydia Wells, a first year medical student at Bristol Medical School. 

Hey guys. I’m going to give you a brief overview of what studying medicine at Bristol is really like. Bristol changed their curriculum a couple of years ago, so I am going to explain the structure of the new course and give an honest review. I have just finished my first year here and I could not be happier with my choice to attend Bristol Uni. The teaching is fantastic, what we learn about is so relevant and the city is such a cool place to live. 


  1. An Overview of Teaching Methods
  2. Typical Timetable of a 1st year Medical Student at Bristol
  3. The Non-Medical Stuff
  4. Pros
  5. Cons
  6. 3 Top Tips For Applying to Bristol
  7. Q&A

An Overview of How We Are Taught

Bristol use an integrated approach to teaching, this means you will attend lectures with the whole year group, where they will deliver the information that everyone needs to learn. During first year you have around 2 lectures a day, as well as 1/2 CBL (cased based learning) small group meetings a week.  

First year is split into 2 terms, first you learn the ‘Foundations of Medicine’, a chance to reconsolidate that A-level biology knowledge. You learn the anatomy of each of the body systems in the Dissection lab, the base layer of knowledge given in the form of lectures, lab work and then tutorials on ethics, epidemiology, BSS (behaviour and social science) and professionalism. 

The second term, ‘Human Health and Wellbeing’, is when you begin to add to your knowledge from first term to begin to understand ‘how things work’.

As I mentioned; as well as lectures, you will have CBL teaching, this begins in second term. A group of around 9-14 first years who meet 3 times over 2 weeks with a facilitator to go over a ‘case’. This case will relate to one body system at a time. In the group you decide everything you already know, what you need to find out, then divide the information up between everyone to go away and research. You then meet again to discuss and teach each other what we learned.  

The CBL sessions are so interactive and you will work with the same group the whole time meaning everyone gets to know each other really well which is so nice. There is a lot of flexibility with how groups want to plan their sessions too, as the facilitator is there for guidance not instruction. 

As well as lectures and CBL, first year includes clinical exposure, basic life support training and pro-section anatomy learning (the specimens are already prepped and laid out for you and you handle them and learn from them with a group). 

We have clinical exposure throughout our entire time at medical school, starting from your first term – every other week you spend the afternoon in a GP surgery with 3 or 4 other medics. As well as this, over first year you do three 12hour shifts working in the hospital with a HCA, its great experience and you are in a different department each time. We also have clinical skills labs at the hospital every few weeks. 

One of my favourite parts of first year was Basic Life Support training, learning how to properly do CPR, use an AED, help a drowning patient and a choking patient. Each year skills are added onto this so you are confident in a range of situations. 

First year: You learn what the body is meant to look like and how it is meant to function. 
Second year: You learn what can go wrong with the body. 
Third year: You learn how to fix it. 
Fourth year: Put it into practice, then finals. 
Fifth year: Get ready to be a doctor.

A Typical Timetable of a 1st Year Medic

(mock timetable)

The Non-Medical Stuff

The city of Bristol is so much fun – there is honestly so much to do. The music scene is amazing and we are lucky enough that loads of artists play Bristol when they tour. There are so many clubs, Bristol is known for having an amazing nightlife. Being a city university means students are living and learning throughout the city – meaning you get used to where everything is really quickly.

Most university halls are close to uni and the city centre, I was in a city centre accommodation my first year and everything was so close by I never spent any money on buses or Ubers. There is a halls campus above the city that requires a bus to get to but is known for its community feel and because it’s a student town it is really easy to meet people.

There are more societies than you could ever think of, you will be able to get a taste for them all at the Freshers fair (or this year you may need to keep an eye out online and look at the Bristol SU website!)

I am part of Surf Society – my absolute favourite part of uni – we take trips together for the weekend to go surfing in Cornwall and have the best nights out. Every sport has a society even ones you’ve never heard of, every type of dance, every type of art – games societies, food societies, book and film societies. Each course also has a society, the medic society is called Galenicals, and they have sub societies including medic sports clubs, areas of medicine you may be interested in such as NeuroSoc. As well as volunteering groups, for example Bristol Donors (a student led group who give talks at schools about organ donation, as well as organising student blood donation sessions for the students of the university (a cheeky plug as I am president this year!).

Pros of Studying at Bristol

• Basic Life Support qualification – learning lifesaving information covered over 4 sessions in one month. I found this so useful and made me feel confident that in a life-threatening situation I would know what to do, you also have the option to teach CPR to schools and to the public!

3D teaching – ‘Diversity, Disability and Disadvantage’, covered over a number of teaching days throughout the year covering topics like sexual health, BAME treatment, disability awareness and health inequalities.

Early clinical exposure – from the first term you are in a GP surgery every other week with a couple of other medics, you also have a day shift in hospital 3 times during first year as well as clinical teaching at the hospital. This means you become very comfortable in the clinical environment early on.

City University – everything you could possibly need is right on your doorstep.

CBL + lectures – having a mixture of both is so helpful because it means everyone learns the same information but you also have the opportunity to dig deeper into certain topics with a small group to really ensure understanding.

Pro-section lab – this is similar to dissection anatomy, but we are given the specimens already cut and sectioned, meaning there is no mess and we can clearly see and learn from the body parts we are handling. Learning from images and textbooks is great for initial understanding but seeing it properly makes it so much easier to connect everything together in your head.

Medic Nights out – these are so much fun, organised by the medic society Galenicals, and open to all medics. Medics are a very welcoming group and whether you are looking to have a great night out or just meet some of the older years I can definitely recommend going on the medic nights out!

Societies – having a group of friends that aren’t medics is also good, societies gives you the chance to meet people of different years in different courses and you can see them as little or as much as you like – there is no commitment to how much you interact with your society but it is such a good break to do something other than study.

Cons of Studying at Bristol

Hills. Bristol has many hills so walking around the city can get tiring! Leave an extra 5 mins to catch your breath when heading to a lecture at 830.

More of a neutral point – we also have some lectures/sessions on the Art of Medicine, where we reflect on our clinical experience through an art project – some people love this! I thought it was a lovely break from biochem and physiology but some people feel it is not necessary so that is up to you to decide! 

3 Top Tips For Applying to Bristol

1. Bristol now take notice of your UCAT so get in lots of practice before taking the exam!

2. Be prepared for a role play in your interview – most of the people I know had a role play station during their interview so if you get a chance to practice it will make it seem more natural on the day.

3. Have an example for when you have shown each of the main personality traits medical schools look for (a list is on The Medic Portal website), this applies to your personal statement and to the interview. In your PS; write where you have seen this trait during your work experience, why it is important for doctors to be this way and then what evidence you have to back up that you also have this characteristic. In interview a common question Bristol ask is to give them an example of a time you have demonstrated a particular trait/characteristic so having examples ready will stop you from having a mind blank on the day!

Thank you Lydia for writing all about Bristol. You can follow her on instagram and also look up “Bristol Donors” on Facebook if you’re interested in volunteering.

Your Turn To Ask Any Questions!

Thank you for submitting your questions, they’ve now been answered by a current student – click below to read the answers!

Make sure you subscribe to this website to have the overview for the rest of the medical schools delivered straight to your inbox!

Posted by:Life of a Medic

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